What is Cannabinol?

Cannabinol (CBN) is a cannabinoid produced exclusively by the cannabis plant, but is typically found in only small amounts in most strains. CBN is a partial agonist at the CB1 receptor of the body’s endocannabinoid system (having a higher concentration within the central nervous system), but it appears to have a greater affinity for the CB2 receptor (having higher concentrations outside the central nervous system). Thus, CBN tends to produce minor, if any, intoxicating effects.

Unlike other cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) or cannabichromene (CBC), CBN is not derived directly from cannabigerol (CBG) or cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), but rather is the metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which has been exposed to prolonged sunlight and air (aged cannabis). The rate of degradation from THC to CBN depends on the storage conditions of the harvested cannabis, however the amount of CBN will increase as the plant material ages.

What Does the Research Show?

Cannabinol, like other cannabinoids such as CBD, interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to produce a number of potential health benefits. Approximately 30% of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia which over time could increase the risk of other serious health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression. CBN has had a reputation as one of the most powerful cannabinoids for promoting sleep, however more recent research suggests this effect may be more attributable to terpenes found in cannabis such as myrcene and linalool or perhaps partially the result of the contribution by CBN towards cannabis’ entourage effect.

As with CBD, CBN appears to have anti-inflammatory properties through its effects on the ECS, and as a result, may help relieve pain. In addition, CBN has been shown to stimulate peptide release from sensory nerves, thus reducing pain sensitivity. Such reduction in pain sensitivity appears to occur without affecting CB1 or CB2 receptors, suggesting a combination of CBN along with activation of the endocannabinoid system by CBD may provide even greater pain relief.

Like CBG and CBC, cannabinol has also demonstrated potent activity against one of the most dangerous and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). As research of the cannabis plant continues to rapidly progress, CBN may be found to be one of the most therapeutically important cannabinoids. However, compared to THC and CBD, studies on CBN have been much more lacking to date.


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Zygmunt P et al; Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabinol Activate Capsaicin-Sensitive Sensory Nerves via a CB1 and CB2 Cannabinoid Receptor-Independent Mechanism; The Journal of Neuroscience; 2002 Jun; 22(11): 4720 – 4727.

Appendino G et al; Antibacterial cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: a structure-activity study; Journal of Natural Products; 2008 Aug; 71(8): 1427 – 1430.


Author Bio:

Dr. Wright Penniman M.D. is a board certified family physician with 15 years of clinical experience and 4 years of experience as a medical director with a major health insurance company.

Article written by Dr. Wright Penniman M.D.


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